The phone rang when I was shoeless and only a couple of sips into my morning coffee. “Hi, it’s Novella Carpenter,” the caller said. “My goat is giving birth.”
Twenty minutes later I was crouched in the hay at Ghost Town Farm, pushing away chickens and peering into the pen that housed the expectant mother, Bébé. Her udder was so swollen she couldn’t get her hindquarters down. Bleating, she clawed at the dirt with her right front hoof as if searching for a stash of Vicodin. “Pass me the iodine,” Carpenter said. “We better wash up.”
Similar birthing scenes have unfolded countless times in America’s agrarian past, but none, I suspected, had the soundtrack of the Ghost Town neighborhood in Oakland, Calif. As Bébé’s cries reached an apex they were matched by the caterwauling of a police car siren on Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Then came the intestine-undulating bass of hip-hop from a passing car. Residents disagree on how Ghost Town got its name—for the isolation created when freeways cleft the neighborhood from the rest of the city in the 1950s? For the appallingly high murder rate? For the casket companies that used to be located here? More unanimously accepted is that Ghost Town is a singularly odd location for a homestead that hosts pigs, goats, geese, peaches, potatoes, spinach and bees. Carpenter is living a version of the Laura Ingalls Wilder fantasy all right, but hers is Little House in the ’Hood.